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MLB hopes AI facial recognition and sensor tech will enable hands-free entry to ballparks

Philadelphia Phillies are trialling ‘Go Ahead Entry’ before potential wider rollout.

4 Sep 2023 Steve McCaskill

Getty Images

  • Several MLB teams use facial recognition tech
  • MLB wants painless entry to drive ticket sales

Major League Baseball (MLB) is testing facial recognition technology that would allow fans with a ticket to enter any ballpark hands free.

The ‘Go Ahead Entry’ system uses artificial intelligence (AI) enabled cameras to verify genuine ticketholders, meaning fans don’t have to physically scan a bar code on a paper ticket or on their smartphone.

Fans aged 18 and older can register for the scheme by taking a photo using a dedicated mobile application. The photo is then stored as a unique numerical token before being deleted, while data is kept isolated from any other kind of security or monitoring system to ease concerns about surveillance and safeguard privacy.

MLB, which has been working on the initiative for more than two years, is holding a pilot programme of the technology at the Philadelphia Phillies’ ballpark ahead of a potential wider rollout.

One of the reasons the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park was chosen is because the team already uses Evolv technology that uses AI sensors to conduct security checks without the need for fans to remove mobile phones, keys and wallets before screening, and without individual checks using metal detecting wands.

The combination of the two systems means a fan can walk straight off the street and to their seat without having to retrieve anything from their pockets.

According to the Associated Press (AP), MLB is happy with the performance of the system so far and could roll it out more widely if it continues to be a success. Several ballparks already have facial recognition systems, including the New York Mets, which are working with Wicket.

SportsPro says…

Like many other sports leagues, MLB has largely shifted towards mobile ticketing to make entry more convenient and rapid for fans, as well as aid the ticket distribution process.

While these are pressing challenges for any major sports property, they are an even greater consideration for a professional baseball team that plays 81 home games a season at a stadium holding tens of thousands of spectators.

Digital ticketing platforms streamline the task of managing millions of tickets a season, while it is hoped that more advanced biometric technology will make fans more likely to attend extra matches. The logic is that long queues might dissuade fans from buying tickets.

With so many tickets to sell, MLB teams will do anything to address pain points or tempt fans through the turnstiles – whether it’s US$1 taco night, free bobbleheads, or biometric tech.

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